December 11, 2006

Tradition, Honor, Excellence... and Nonsense

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

15-year-old Reed Brennan has given up her old life to be one of Those Girls: one who attends Easton Academy, yet another snobby, rich kid school that is so private that even signs don't clearly point the way there. Reed's home life is so dismal that even being locked out of the society of the "it" boys and girls at a prestigious school seems like a better, more hopeful option that going on with her pain-killer addicted, alcoholic mother, her helpless father, her gray school and her drab, friendless life.

Though the premise is set up well enough in the first scenes, it soon changes to questionable, then ridiculous. For some reason, Reed seems to expect Easton to be something similar to her high school back home, though she knows just from driving up the steep uptick of money and prestige, just by looking at the car lines of limos and Mercedes that line the drive. Reed admittedly doesn't know how to make friends; she's made a point of not learning back home, since girlfriends seem to be more interested in checking out houses and parents than guys are, and she's made a deliberate choice to keep people out of her life and away from her toxic mother. Reed is normally friends with guys, who don't care about such things, but for some unexplained reason, it doesn't occur to her to make those safer friendships here. Inexplicably, Reed longs to be a girly-girl for once. Then, to further add to the unbelievable storyline, she then zeroes in on longing to belong to of the most exclusive girl's groups on campus: the Billings Girls, who not only are the wealthiest and most socially accelerated girls on campus, but the only girls who have their own dorms, and who seem to answer to no one. Of COURSE Reed wants to belong this group, in a complete and utter departure from her previously stated personality. She has no idea how to make friends, so why not try for the group who will most likely reject her?

Leaving aside all common sense, Reed tediously watches and waits for her chance to get in. Every rebuff only strengthens her resolve to gather more blow-offs and sneers to herself, as if they are gold medals. Not because she wears them down with her puppy dog eyes, Reed is eventually taken into the fringes of the group by the meanest girls in the group and permitted to do their chores, steal their tests, and be their go-fer, in return for a false and hollow friendship which could end disastrously at any time, as she observes when another girl is expelled.

Not only that, Reed's dreamboat boyfriend time on a guy she discovers is the school drug dealer -- to which she reacts with a surprising amount of overdone, though brief horror, -- and her bright academic scores which brought her there are in danger of sinking her onto academic perdition. All the teachers are faceless gorgons, reflecting the same prep school mirror as so many other novels of poor, maligned students. Reed, though she has the right kind of name, is in over her head.

A reader might ask, "what's the point?" Why attend a school so Private and exclusive that they don't seem to want you? Who knows? Perhaps the answer is in the sequel.

A novel that is the mirror reflection of every 'poor scholarship girl makes bad choices to get popular in rich private school' storyline, there is little or no character development here, some major plot holes, and a very annoying take on popularity: the author writes as if all popular people are inherently evil, and popularity itself is prize enough to encourage all girls to turn into backstabbing beeyotches, and sacrifice self-esteem and personal pride, which is simply, tiresomely, not true. A surprisingly shallow novel.

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